Styles Change

going in style - SWith the exception of having three old men named Joe, Al and Willie rob a bank, Zach Braff’s “Going In Style” bears no resemblance to Martin Brest’s 1979 film- it also has none of the original’s darkly comedic tones and poignancy, turning this ‘style’ into a breezy and forgettable fad.

I’m a big fan of the 1979 original, which starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg (as Joe, Al and Willie respectively), because what writer/director Brest did so effectively was have us immediately empathize with the aged. Stuck to a routine of sitting in the park and waiting for their Social Security checks while their time on Earth slowly ticks away, it wasn’t such a wacky whim when Joe voices his disgust with their predicament and floats the idea of robbing a bank to roommates Al and Willie- to Joe, the bank job would give their lives a perverse purpose. Although initially leery, Al and Willie agree- Joe’s whim becomes a ‘why not:’ a last grab at virility coupled with showing advancing in age doesn’t erase a youthful yearning. The mechanics of the crime and the realistic repercussions rang true, and you rooted for the characters to succeed in their scheme.

Thirty-eight years later, people are living longer and the aged are more active. Joe (Michael Caine) is a retired steel worker living on a pension who discovers by mail his mortgage payments are in arrears. On a visit to his bank, Joe’s informed of missing pension deposits and a mortgage rate increase that has put him behind. As he’s being informed of his ill-fortune, Joe witnesses his bank being robbed by three masked men coordinating a slickly-choreographed heist. Ordered to lie on the floor, Joe complains of his body cramping and the robber/ringleader lets Joe sit on a chair- the robber respects the elderly. After the robbers flee, Joe returns home to more bad news.

Due to a business merger, his pension has halted and Joe soon faces foreclosure. Haunted by the heist or perhaps inspired by its audacity, Joe runs a bank heist idea over with his best friends and former factory workers Al (Alan Arkin) and Willie (Morgan Freeman), who have also lost their pensions. Calculating their remaining years and how much they’d need to stay solvent, a bank job seems like their only answer. After a farcical supermarket robbery trial run ends in disaster, they receive a collective slap on their arthritic wrists and are sent away to stew. But of course, these old dogs still have some fight in ‘em yet.

Written by Theodore Melfi (“Hidden Figures,” “St. Vincent”), this “Style” remake is a fluff retelling. After the smart step of taking a contemporary crisis to spark the scheme, the film’s misstep is mixing the comedic tones of “Grumpy Old Men” within the complexity of a “Usual Suspects” caper (I mention these films because “Grumpy’s” Ann-Margret appears as Al’s love interest and Matt Dillon plays a dogged detective much like “Usual’s” agent Kujan) . What’s left is a movie that feels off-balance- you never believe these guys could successfully orchestrate their plan unless you believe only good things happen to good people and everyone else is an idiot. While Caine, Arkin and Freeman are all formidable actors, they’re wasted in superficial characters that are slaves to their light-comedy confines.

When the gravity of a bank robbery seems like the only solution to remain solvent in our ‘golden years,’ I prefer the darker tones of the original versus the lighter touch of this retelling. While styles may change, some things never do- for me, realism resonates.

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